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Israel pulling out of Gaza; Hamas ceases fire - at least for now

2009-01-19 00:58:47

Our Comments

Propaganda at its best.  It has been Israel doing the attacking, with the exception of home made rockets from Hamas.

3 Israeli civilians died, and over 1200 Palestians were killed.  And yet it was Israel who broke the ceasefire in the first place but the media is generally biased towards Israel.

Full Article:

Israel pulling out of Gaza; Hamas ceases fire - at least for now

Published: Sunday, January 18, 2009 | 8:03 PM ET

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israeli troops began to withdraw from Gaza Sunday after their government and Hamas militants declared an end to a three-week war.

Neither side achieved long-term goals, and the burden of consolidating the fragile calm fell to world leaders.

The truce brought relief to Gaza's citizens, who took stock of the devastation in relative safety for the first time since Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27.

It brought more trauma, as rescue workers in surgical masks ventured into what were once no-go areas and pulled 100 bodies from buildings pulverized by bombs.

Tension eased in southern Israel, the target of Palestinian rocket fire, even though Hamas launched nearly 20 rockets in a final salvo before announcing a ceasefire.

Three Israelis were lightly wounded, while two Palestinians were killed in last-minute fighting.

Israel and Hamas don't recognize each other and ended up separately declaring ceasefires 12 hours apart after strenuous efforts by Egyptian mediators to get an agreement.

Israel first announced a unilateral ceasefire that took effect early Sunday, with Hamas initially vowing to keep fighting until all troops left Gaza.

Later Sunday, Hamas said it would hold its fire to give Israeli forces time to pull out.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his country had no desire to stay in Gaza, a Mediterranean strip of 1.4 million people that was vacated by Israel in 2005 even though Gaza's airspace, coastal waters and border crossings remained under Israeli control.

"We didn't set out to conquer Gaza. We didn't set out to control Gaza. We don't want to remain in Gaza, and we intend on leaving Gaza as fast as possible," Olmert said at a dinner in Jerusalem with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Spain.

A swift withdrawal would reduce the likelihood of clashes between militants and Israeli troops that could rupture the truce.

Despite losses suffered, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh claimed "a heavenly victory" in remarks broadcast on Al-Jazeera Arabic news channel.

The world welcomed the apparent end to the latest round of fighting in the Middle East.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged a quick influx of humanitarian aid to the isolated enclave, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the final days of her tenure, said a ceasefire must be durable.

Iran, which has supplied rockets to Hamas, said a key to calm is the opening of border crossings that Israel and Egypt have kept virtually sealed since the militant group staged a violent takeover of Gaza in 2007.

It defeated forces of the rival Fatah faction, headed by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The comment by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was a reminder that the tiny coastal territory is just one piece of a larger conflict between Israel and regional enemies.

In Egypt, European and Arab leaders were seeking a long-term deal to solidify the truce.

Delivering humanitarian aid to rebuild Gaza, opening its borders and choking off the flow of weapons into Gaza through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border and at sea - perhaps with an international naval force - emerged as key goals from their summit at the Sinai desert resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

The gathering, however, failed to deliver specifics on international monitors to stop weapons from reaching Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Israel wants monitors, but Egypt has refused to have them on its side of the border.

The Israeli military warned that the next few days were critical and that any Hamas attacks would be met with harsh retaliation.

"Right now the operation hasn't ended," Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said. "It has just transitioned to a new phase, to hold fire. To give a chance to a cease-fire to take over and end this operation."

Israel emerged as the winner on the battlefield.

However, its chief goals - a permanent end to rocket attacks on Israel and weapons smuggling into Gaza - will require hard diplomacy and sustained international co-operation to achieve.

Hamas, meanwhile, lost hundreds of fighters and failed to turn Gaza into a graveyard for masses of Israeli troops, as it had promised.

It hopes that its survival will boost its standing among Arab supporters as a foe, as well as righteous victim, of the Jewish state.

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